07.10.2016 Preaching Text: “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37b)
The story of the “Good Samaritan” provides rich material with respect to any number of moral and spiritual issues. The most obvious, of course, is the way the religious leaders, society’s most moral and upstanding, fail to respond to the needs of the injured and victimized man. It is left to someone from the generally despised Samaritan race to do God’s will. Here the story clearly hits on the hypocrisy angle.
In reading the story once again, I was struck by how easy it is relate to the author’s perspective. Naturally we would do as the Samaritan did. Naturally we are appalled by the actions (or lack thereof) of the priest and the Levite. There’s no question we would do the right thing.
But would we? For one thing, there was danger involved. This event took place on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, known colloquially as the “Red or Bloody Way.” The area was a haven for thieves and robbers who sometimes set traps for unwary, would-be rescuers. Was this a set-up?
Not only that, there were religious considerations. If the priest, for instance, had approached the man and touched him, and the man was found to be dead, the priest would be rendered ritually unclean and thus unable to perform his priestly duties.
To make matters worse, the victim had behaved recklessly, taking this notoriously dangerous road unaccompanied. In those days anyone carrying valuables would almost always travel in caravans or packs to avoid robbery or worse. This man had acted foolishly and thus had paid the predictable price.
These are only but a few of the considerations the priest and Levite, and no doubt the Samaritan, must have taken into account. There’s always the natural fear of getting involved, particularly when personal injury and violence are involved. In witnessing an auto accident, it’s not always easy to know what to do or how to act.
Thus, as I say, like the priest and Levite, many of us might well hesitate were we the ones seeing the injured man on the side of the road. It’s human nature, which makes the actions of the Samaritan that much more laudatory. He acts selflessly on behalf of a complete stranger, not knowing whether he might become the next victim. He even puts up his own money to care for the man.
It is thus his selflessness which is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the story.
In studied contrast, just this past week there was a story in the news about a Boston cabbie who found $187,000 in a backpack in the backseat of his taxi.
As it turned out, the backpack belonged to a once homeless man who had inherited the money and who had just come from the bank with all of it in cash, in neat bundles of $50 and $100 bills.
After finding the man and returning the money, the cabbie expressed disappointment with his “reward” of only $100.
“I thought maybe he’d give $500 or $1,000, maybe one of those bundles,” he told a reporter. He also admitted to the same reporter that after he had dropped the man back at his hotel, he’d wished the man would have forgotten his money a second time! (I latter heard a couple of media people comment on what a sucker the cabbie was!)
Which brings us back to the utter selflessness of the Good Samaritan. In him one finds no apparent ulterior motive. He isn’t expecting a reward, not even a bundle of $50’s and $100’s! He acts without self-interest while risking simultaneously life and limb.
This kind of selfless giving is, of course, the key to Christian ethics. We act out of love, for love. We do not count the cost or seek to satisfy any ulterior motive. And we involve ourselves in situations from which others might turn away.
Of course, it’s altogether natural to want to avoid those places where suffering and pain exist, especially where there’s danger. And yet, paradoxically, it’s often in these places where we are most apt to find God.
A few years ago while living in Connecticut, I observed a family gathering in a park. The younger members of the family, mostly in their 20’s and 30’s, had formed a circle and were playing a game that involved throwing a bunch of tennis balls around. Everyone was laughing and enjoying themselves immensely.
Except an elderly man who was seated in a wheel chair just outside the periphery. It looked as if he might have been the grandfather of the young clan members. Yet they seemed not to notice him. There he sat, probably thinking about his younger days and his place within the family over the years. But he now was invisible to them all. He didn’t exist.
No one came up to see how he was doing, or ask how he was feeling, or try to include him in any way. He just sat there dejectedly, alone with his thoughts.
I have been unexpectedly blessed and privileged over the years that my work has required that I get involved in these kinds of seemingly thankless situations. Against my altogether common and natural aversion toward entering, say, hospitals and nursing homes, I have come to see how precious these moments are. In that way I’m more fortunate than many.
As I say, I’m not eager to enter places of pain and suffering. I’m human, after all. But over the years I’ve come to see the immense value of those moments, though I’ve never gone seeking a “reward.”
In this is found the paradox of Christian giving. Selflessness, by definition, does not seek reward, but in the end does become its own reward. There is no greater joy than that found in selfless giving, especially in and through difficult and uncomfortable situations.
Some of the most significant and cherished moments of my life have occurred in hospital rooms, nursing homes, and the homes of those who’ve lost a loved one – the very places most of us, myself included, might otherwise naturally seek to avoid.
The Good Samaritan is thus richly blessed in overcoming the natural human tendency to avoid life’s hurt and pain, and by willingly entering them. His reward is godly in nature. Amen.